Great to get another Guest Blog about part of the reserve that someone has got to know and love, Linda is an Artist who the Reserve has worked with over the last few years by being involved in projects that she's organised, looking at how nature is reflected in art and how it inspires people to express themselves and their feelings. Many thanks too for helping me out at a rather busy time when I'm struggling with finding the time to write a blog. Hopefully some of the picture format will have held but unfortunately I couldn't quite get the blog publisher to put the pictures into the blog how Linda had intended, apologies in advance! Pete
Horseshoe Meadow, RSPB Blacktoft, January – July ’19
The mosaic of the meadow …
I have been slowly easing myself into a project based at RSPB Blacktoft Sands since January 2019.
Slowly, because I am not a naturalist or a scientist, but a visual artist with an avid interest in the natural world – in particular, wild flowers, folk histories, botany, growing things and how these lead through to ‘place’ – so I have a bit of an insecurity as to how I record and express my findings in a world becoming, very rightly, more aware of these things.
My interest was piqued in September 2018, when chairing an Artists and Ecologists Round Table event in partnership with Groundwork Gallery, Gallery Steel Rooms and the Bird After Bird exhibition, RSPB Reserve Manager Pete Short used the word ‘mosaic’ to describe the makeup of a meadow - newly acquired arable land which he clearly has a passion for developing as an important habitat as part of the Blacktoft Sands landscape.
“…the mosaic of the meadow…”
I knew instantly that I wanted to be involved in some way. Amongst other texts, I had been reading Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica, John Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland, and Isabella Tree’s Rewilding as well as working hard to manage two allotments and all else that was happening. The idea of a project in or about or around a meadow – which, I believe, until June 2019, I had not ever had the experience of seeing in full summer glory – was upmost in my mind. How would I make it happen?
January 2019: cold, grey, drizzling. 2.2 hectares of grassland and mixed flora, lined on the west by a mixed hedge, on the east by a drain, public footpath and 12 Ash trees; another drain to the south, and to the north, an escarpment acting as a defence against rising waters from the Blacktoft channel which feeds the reserve and provides habitat for a wealth of birds, animals and insects. A field: very quiet, but full of life. I am overwhelmed by all there is to see, try to understand, and discover. I have no idea how to do this, other than to make a start by just being here. And from the start, I know this has to be something SLOW.
Meadowland: the private life of an English field, describes and records how it is possible to become intimate with a place, a piece of land, a patch of environment. It is the portrait of an area of Lewis-Stempel’s farm which reveals itself through regular, habit-forming observation and contact to be the site of an ancient meadow; one with fossils embedded in the river bank, a newt ditch, and a rich population of inhabitants.
He tells how, during January in the field, ‘the snipe like the wet corner of the meadow… always mysterious; their plumage is sorcery, a camouflage of earth-blending bars and flecks,’ and how an old boar badger patrols the night-time area, ‘flipping over old cow pats with all the aplomb of a pizza chef.’ I know that I am looking, and not seeing all that there is to see – probably there is a whole flock of snipe I am missing - and that the meadow is a multi-platform stage with a vast and interdependent cast through the hours of the days, the seasons and the years. I want to do what he has done. I know I cannot do what he has done.
Early on, I pace the site (258 paces down west side, 230 paces east, 93 upper bank and 76 south end to the road) – finding the ‘middle’ point (127 paces West looking East) and tried to establish the meadow within the wider reserve through walking and drawing/mapping.
At this time, the meadow very much looks like ‘an English field’.
Looking west to east One of my sketchbook studies
February – March: I map, and pace, and gather. I spend time being still at the halfway point I have established along the western edge, looking east.
Generally, in life, I seem to spend a lot of time looking from west to east, geographically, being on the edge of an estuary as I am.
I spend a lot of time looking at the trees along the east edge. They are Ash – I photograph them; gather detritus - lichen-covered twigs in bright hues of yellows through green; and make an attempt at a series of work – though I know this is just a start – a ‘feeling-my-way-in’.
In the meadow-field, I am aware that the edges are somehow ‘easier’ to get a grasp on, identify and be a part of. Out of necessity, I think, we move from outside to inside, and then out again – perhaps that’s just the way it is?
May – June: Overwhelmed by my ignorance of the content of the mosaic, I make studies and starts – grasps in a direction I know I’m blind to. It’s frightening, being in this place connected/not connected, in the known/not-known. More and more I am aware that this will be a slow project – a getting-to-know, an experience of starting to know what’s there, but never reaching it all.
Part of the ‘mosaic’ of the meadow along with some sketch book studies
The field, by degrees, has become adorned in spring then summer fashion.
In common usage, ‘meadow’ has a much more general, almost inverted meaning. If there are wild flowers growing in a grassy place, then that is a meadow. It may be a clearing in a wood, a churchyard corner, even the unsprayed stubble in a cornfield A meadow is now ‘a place of the mind’ as much as a precisely defined ecological system …
Mabey, R., Flora Britannica, 1996, p398
From my journal
Friday 21 June (midsummer’s day)
Going to Blacktoft.
12 noon – Am here. Have just spoken to Pete who is weeding out ragwort. The meadow is likely to be cut 15 July – he’s waiting for the field scabious to have a longer chance to flower.
The sward is now up to my chest. I’m sitting [on my portable stool] on the west boundary opposite the second tree on the west boundary.
Mild/warm day with sunshine and cloud, little breeze.
The grasses which last time where particularly graceful in the breeze and catching the light are now drooping and purpling just as gracefully toward the ground.
I just watched and filmed a caterpillar floating on its thread of silk.
It’s still there, in the air.
And then, a spider; something; looking amazingly as though flying through the clouds due to close proximity and my low eye-line from my squat stool.
July: I picnic on the public footpath with friends J and H when the meadow, again has on its sheath of ‘field-ness’, having just been cut. Having expected this to happen the following week, I am disappointed; I wanted them to see the meadow in its swaying multi-coloured, multi-textured and living glory. Instead the grass wears vast jewels in the form of eleven hay bales, fragrant, heavy and intricate. Our conversation and the time I spend with the structures, then ‘alone’ in the space after my companies’ departure leads me to think about what is trapped and bound inside; the seeming improbability that the vastness of grass and plants are now contained within these eleven pods.
Linda Ingham, Lincolnshire, July 2020
Really interesting article, I to enjoy reading John Lewis Stempel, hope you can contribute again, soon.
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